Set aside Mary Landrieu’s greater fondness for her D.C. mansion than for a real home in Louisiana. Set aside her senatorial office’s incompetence at keeping track of which private-jet travels should be paid for by her campaign instead of by taxpayers. What should make Louisiana voters angriest is that Landrieu is trying to play them for fools by pretending to protect jobs at a Citgo refinery in Lake Charles.
It’s a bogus issue, and her concoction of it insults Louisianans’ intelligence.
First, to be fair: The airplane charges and the home address are, individually, campaign detritus. They may well symbolize an out-of-touchness on the part of a senator captured by the Washington Beltway. But sometimes, offices do err in financial record-keeping and, unless it’s deliberate and/or habitual, it’s not a scandal but a mere embarrassment. Likewise, there’s nothing inherently wrong with senators making their primary abode in D.C., especially if they have school-age children. It’s absurd to try to kick her off the ballot for listing her parents’ home as her voting address — the elder George Bush, after all, was registered to vote from a hotel room in Houston — even if it is rather odd for a wealthy 58-year-old to be saving rent by “living” with the ’rents.
Her Citgo stratagem, on the other hand, is obnoxious. For those who missed it, Landrieu reportedly is the lone senator blocking a well-aimed bill to deny travel visas and freeze assets of major human-rights violators in socialist-left Venezuela. She claims that Citgo, which is owned by the viciously anti-American Venezuelan government, will somehow have its Lake Charles operations harmed by the sanctions against specific Venezuelan individuals.
Her claim is either spurious or morally bankrupt. If Citgo is so intertwined with the specific goons who are shooting and tear-gassing innocent Venezuelan citizens, then it’s immoral to do business with it. What’s more likely is that Landrieu is crying wolf: The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, controlled by her own liberal Democratic Party, reportedly assured her the bill will not affect Louisiana jobs.
Perhaps Landrieu needs a refresher on the free market. If, on the truly bizarre chance she’s right that the pro-human rights bill would drive Citgo from Lake Charles, it’s not as if the jobs would disappear. Working refineries, already permitted for operation, are immensely valuable commodities. Another energy company would snap up the facility faster than nutria chew marsh grass — saving and maybe expanding employment, without immoral ties to an outlaw regime.
This “Landrieu to the rescue” pose is a repeat from the senator’s hoary bag of tricks. It’s a near-perfect parallel to the nonsensical “sugar scare” that saved her first re-election campaign in 2002, when her poll numbers were dangerously low. Remember that one? Suddenly, in the campaign’s last week, Landrieu cited/translated a Mexican newspaper purporting to have evidence of a secret Bush administration plan to double Mexican sugar-import quotas, thus devastating Louisiana’s sugar industry. Landrieu, acting enraged, raised, uh, cane: Her campaign ran harsh attack ads labeling her opponent a Bush lackey while she, Landrieu, womanned the ramparts against foreign sweetness.
It worked: A sugar rush of Cajunland voters voting for Landrieu made a huge difference in her narrow victory.
Few people noticed when the issue died away almost as soon as the campaign did. Like so much bagasse, the supposed Mexican sugar threat had never been anything more than a smelly side product of desperate campaigning refined to the max. It was a cynical ploy — exactly as the Citgo stratagem is now — but it worked. And, coming as it did on the heels of Landrieu’s disputed 1996 Senate win on the backs and street money of casino interests driving up liberal turnout as the polls closed, it confirmed her political reputation being both lucky and preternaturally tough.
Truth be told, there’s something galvanizing about Landrieu’s political death-defying prowess. Like a high-wire circus act during a windstorm, it’s hard not to watch and hard not to root for her.
There’s no doubt Landrieu sometimes puts ideology aside to fight for Louisiana’s interests, and with some real successes along the way. But that doesn’t make it right for her to invent a spurious Louisiana interest when she’s really just serving her own.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he blogs at blogs.theadvocate.com/ quin-essential.